Orla Traynor, Opinions Editor.
This past week was Eating Disorders Awareness Week and the theme was “Why wait?” Beat, the Eating Disorder charity found that on average, a sufferer will wait 149 weeks before seeking help for disordered eating. That’s almost three years, 37 months or 1,043 days. The issue is that the longer a disorder goes untreated, the more likely it is that it will result in serious illness and the harder it will be to recover.
It’s a common perception in the media and public opinion that those with EDs are always underweight or extremely thin. The media, TV and film have made disordered eating synonymous with severely underweight figures, like Lily Collins’ physique in the widely criticised Netflix Original, To The Bone. The fact is that someone can suffer from an ED while still looking healthy. Many sufferers even report being praised by peers or family for their weight loss in the early stages of their problem, which contributes to the vicious cycle of losing more.
Up until quite recently, the idea was that eating disorders are a uniquely an illness for teenage girls, that adult women eventually ‘get over’ it and men don’t even think about their weight or food intake. The reality is very different – one in every four sufferers is male. More troublingly, the risk of mortality for men is higher than for women – seeking help early is vital.
Similarly, the misconception that anorexia, bulimia or other problems are a “teenager’s problem” is hugely damaging. The university years, when many people are completely in control of their own food intake for the first time, can offer an environment in which EDs can go unchecked. Later in life can also be a problem area – NEDA reports that events throughout mid-life such as pregnancy, divorce, or noticing signs of ageing can trigger disordered eating or open old wounds relating to food and body image. Older bodies can often have a more difficult time of recovery from the physical aspects of a disorder, such as tooth erosion or gastrointestinal problems, which is why it’s important to seek and maintain recovery.
We live in a time where we’re simultaneously obsessed with “clean eating” and excessive junk food trends like “freakshakes.” For that reason, a disorder like orthorexia – an unhealthy obsession with eating “pure” food – can be seen by onlookers to be simple health-consciousness. Likewise, occasionally overeating is natural and normal, so binge eating disorder can be overlooked. Both, however, are problems just as serious as anorexia or bulimia.
There are ways for everyone to stay aware of eating disorders and their relationship with food. Pay attention if in times of stress you neglect nutrition or emotionally eat. Look out for your friends and step in with a gentle word if they’re going too far with their new diet or withdrawing socially. Something as simple as small acts of resistance against our food-obsessed culture can help yourself and others. Resist the urge to call dessert “naughty.” Unfollow social media accounts which make you feel like your body is lacking. Most of all, if you feel you’re beginning to have a problem with food, get help, don’t wait.
The Beat helpline can be accessed by calling 0808 801 0677